- Genre: ARPG
- Platform: PC
- Also Available On: PS4, Xbox One
- Main Reason for Shelving: Questionable combat system decisions
I’m starting this one off with a screenshot, because it immediately gets into my theme here of wasted potential. This scene is the first thing you see when you take control of the game, and the scenery you see continues to be at this level of quality. This is a phenomenally beautiful game with good music, a good cast of characters, and an enjoyable, if simple story. When the combat works, it’s also a ton of fun, with great pace, decent combos, and a nice mix of melee and ranged abilities. However, as the game ramps up the difficulty, the combat very quickly goes from extremely fun to occasionally unfair to downright bad, and it’s really a consequence of one main issue; bad resource generation.
I guess first to set the stage, a bit about how the battle system actually works. Base melee attacks are comprised of kicks and punches, which can be comboed together. Ranged attacks are comprised of four sets of elemental attacks that use individual element-based resources. For avoidance, the player can dodge or parry. Parry uses the Tension resource, while dodge does not, which is a somewhat strange decision from a high level point of view, but makes sense in practice given how ineffective dodging is against melee attacks. Finally, Tension can also be used to throw a set of more powerful combo moves, or stored to throw what is effectively an ultimate power move.
So then, let’s start with magic generation since it’s the less frustrating of the two. While fighting in an arena, there’s a color-coded barrier that periodically changes. By standing still, you can activate a recharge. The element color that matches the barrier quickly recharges, while the non-matching elements recharge excruciatingly slow. This presents two main problems. For one, you have to stand still. In a combat system that is heavily based around quick combos and high action, this means that you have to be at high range to even think about recharging. It also means that characters have to be built for all elements in mind, as fights that don’t cycle between the elemental colors you want effectively negate the use of those elements. While yes, non-matching elements recharge, it’s so slow as to be impractical in practice.
Unfortunately, Tension is an even worse resource. It gets generated through melee attacks, but typically requires three or so hits to generate one bar of tension. Unfortunately, this also puts you in range of enemy melee attacks, which means you’ll be in melee range of enemies, requiring heavy use of parry to avoid damage. Unfortunately parry itself requires a full bar of Tension. Generally speaking you can expect an enemy to start a melee chain sooner than you can get in three hits, so you end up generally just having to eat massive amounts of damage. This is compounded by the fact that stronger enemies tend to have some form of stun lock-style maneuver with little to no tell, so you’re hoping that the moves you decide to parry vs. the moves you decide to eat damage end up being the right choice. Worst of all, a successful parry does not give any Tension back, so you can very quickly run dry if you have to dodge two or three hits in a row by the enemy. Changing this alone to give Tension for a successful parry could have saved the battle system, giving an advantage for well timed dodges through the system.
This is compounded by poor choices in the combo maneuvers. Standard combos tend to only use one or two bars of Tension, but also tend to be short range and missable, so the price of using one is more than just the loss of a potential parry. There is also then a super move which uses the entire tension bar, but can easily be interrupted by the enemies you’re facing. When the super move is typically a 5 button chain, it’s simply not worth the price of admission to use them and lose all Tension for potentially no gain. In general, I ended up avoiding use of the combo moves altogether, because they simply were not worth losing the resource that I could be using to parry and avoid taking more damage, particularly when one missed parry could be a 100-0 death chain.
The unfortunate thing is that a handful of changes could have been done to establish the quick pace while making things actually fair and challenging, rather than unforgiving. Outside of the stun locks, enemies just were not challenging, so it felt like all challenge was put into catastrophically fucking the player over. The stun locks should have been outright removed. They’re just not fun, especially when a single miss can be a 100-0 situation. Ideally parry should not be on a shared resource with combo moves, and realistically should not be a on a resource at all. Even if it had its own resource, generating that for a successful parry would encourage well timed moves there instead of button spam. With parry in a better place, and the 100-0 stun locks removed, the enemies could then have their overall difficulty adjusted up to make the skill of the fights all about constantly timing parry properly, rather than a guessing game of when you were about to be screwed the most.
I suppose I’ll close with an example here that basically killed the game for me. The second real main boss that you hit is a multi-stage battle against some mobs, then a sub-boss, then a main boss controlling said sub-boss. In between rounds of killing and reviving the sub-boss, the main guy would throw an orb of magic at me, which could be parried back to deal damage. It was 100% the Ganon baseball fight from Ocarina of Time. Unfortunately, it also meant that I needed tension to win, and the amount I needed inherently ramped up each time I hit the main boss. Because I needed Tension, I had to eat damage, but mechanics started ramping up to include floor traps that slowed my movement and attacks, AoE magic, sub-boss throwing magic spells, etc. In general it became more of a fight where I was dodging constantly until the opportunity for one or two hits arrived, while minimizing the damage I was taking as much as possible. Sure I used healing spells and healing items to survive, but quite frankly the fight was just a chore.
The developer has shown some willingness to respond to feedback, so I’m hoping some things can be changed to ultimately rescue the game, but the things I suspect need changing may be too core to really do too much here. The unfortunate result there is a lot of wasted potential. This is the type of high quality ARPG that you usually don’t see from a small developer, because quite frankly they’re hard to make enough content for in a reasonable time. Unfortunately a few highly questionable decisions in the combat mechanics ultimately ground this game, and prevent it from really reaching the potential it shows.